Sunday, December 29, 2013

1942 Nicknames

Whenever New York Yankees manager Joe McCarthy asked for “Lefty” to pitch in 1942, two players jumped up and started throwing. When he summoned “Red,” two more responded. And when he sought his “Buddy,” two other Yankees acknowledged his call.

The Yankees, while a dominating dynasty back then, were a little weak in the nickname game. At least Yanks' pitchers Vernon “Lefty” Gomez and Marius “Lefty” Russo, third baseman Robert “Red” Rolfe and pitcher Charles “Red” Ruffing and catcher Warren “Buddy” Rosar and first baseman John “Buddy” Hassett all thought so.

Sure, the “Yankee Clipper” was a classic nickname for Joe DiMaggio and Joseph “Flash” Gorden was a given, but c'mon, three sets of duplicated names?

One of the quirky, fun things the APBA company does is list players' nicknames on the cards it issues each season. So, while replayers are rolling the games, they are also gleaning yet another tidbit of information from whatever season they are playing.

I've seen some odd nicknames in the 1942 baseball season that I'm nearing completion.

For example, although Washington is the capital of the U.S., the bastion of the development of our country, the Senators embraced a “Hee Haw” hillbilly mentality in its nicknamed players. On the mound, there was William “Goober” Zuber and Hardin “Li'l Abner” Cathey. In New York, the most advanced city in the league at that time, the Giants followed suit with Clifford “Mountain Music” Melton and William “Fiddler Bill” McGee, both pitchers.

Animals reigned as well. John “Big Cat” Mize prowled first base for the Giants and Harry “The Horse” Danning galloped behind the plate for New York's National League team. Smaller animals were also on the field as Lamar “Skeeter” Newsome flitted around like a mosquito on third base for the Red Sox and William “Bullfrog” Dietrich jumped on the mound for the White Sox.

Apparently size was in issue in St. Louis. At times in 1942, the Browns' battery sounded like it needed a Jenny Craig, Inc., nutritional pep talk when Frank “Porky” Biscan threw to catcher Franklin “Blimp” Hayes. But obesity is only in the eye of the beholder. Each player weighed in at a less-than-portly 190 pounds. By comparison today, Prince Fielder, the Texas Rangers first baseman, weighs in at 275 and no one is calling him “Chubby.” But they did call Cleveland Indians pitcher Alfred “Chubby” Dean such in 1942 since he was packing a hefty 181 pounds.

On the other side of the scale was Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, the Dodger's shortstop, who, at 5-10 and 162 pounds, was only dwarfed that season by the Philadelphia outfielder Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner who stood at 5-1 and weighed 151 pounds.

Two of the players in the APBA game shared the odd nickname “Bear Tracks.” Cubs pitcher John Schmitz earned the name for his size 14 shoes and his lumbering way of walking to the pitching mound. The Boston Braves' pitcher Alva Javery also carried that nickname. I couldn't find any information on why he had that name, but he did lead the National League in 1942 with 37 starts. He was also born on June 5, 1918 — a year to the day after my father was born.

The Cardinals had a creative infield. As well as helping anchor the St. Louis team to a World Series title over the two Lefties, Reds and Buddies in New York, they all had creative names. There was the perfectly-named John “Hippity” Hopp at first, the unsettling Frank “Creepy” Crespi at second, Martin “Slats” Marion at short and George “Whitey” Kurowski at third

Their rivals, the Chicago Cubs, showed a cynical sense of humor when naming their players. Outfield William “Swish” Nicholson was given his title for his mighty swing which, sadly, often failed to connect with the ball. He led the league in strikeouts with 83 in 1947 and in 1942, the year I'm doing, he flailed out 80 times. However, in confliction to his nickname, Nicholson led the National League twice in home runs and is only one of six players ever to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.

The Cubs also named their outfielder Louis Novikoff the “Mad Russian.” Novikoff hailed from the Soviet town of Glendale, Ariz. Backup Cubs' catcher Robert “Grump” Scheffing was named so because of his sour countenance — probably for being the backup Cubs catcher. Later, when he took over as Chicago's manager, his mood worsened. He was then known as “Grumpy.”

But, as is the case in most stories, there's a happy ending. When Scheffing left the field and became a radio broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers, an umpire hollered at him, “Hello, Grumpy.”

“No more,” he called back, according to an April 12, 1964, story in the Toledo Blade that highlighted his move to the radio. “Just call me Smilin' Bob.” Little did Scheffing know that 35 years later his nickname would become the name of the guy touting Enzyte, the enhancement drug.

So, APBA fans, check out those nicknames on the players' cards and learn yet a bit more of the seasons you're replaying. There's hillbillies and large people. There's lions and tigers and bear tracks. And if you get a burning desire for more knowledge, simply call on the 1942 Cincinnati Reds' reliever to put it out. I'm sure Joseph “Fireman” Beggs can help.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

APBA Claus

Even when I was a teenager and I knew the story of Santa Claus, my parents continued to label the big presents each Christmas as those from the jolly guy. Maybe it was their northeastern upbringing to remain humble, divert attention and not take credit for everything.

It didn't matter to me. I knew the Santa gift would always be the best present of the year. The headliner, if you will.

And when I got my first APBA gift — the 1976 football game — Santa's name was emblazoned upon the To and From tag stuck on the present.

So began the love affair I have with this game now 36 years later.

Gone now in my adult world is the magic of Santa leaving gifts. Gone, even, is the Christmas tree that I used to put up in my house for the season. I work at my newspaper job on the holiday, and will do so again this year, to avoid sitting home alone on the day reserved for families and gift-giving and over-eating and noise.

But the magic of the APBA game will always remain.

When I got that football game in 1977, it was the last gift my parents had for me that Christmas. My father slid it from beneath the tree, handing it to me almost sacredly, as a monk would present some handwritten script he had completed after 30 years in seclusion. It was a heavy gift; those who play the football game know this. The game contained nearly 1,000 cards of players. It was hefty.

I opened it up and spread it out across the living room floor. Later, I retired to my bedroom and stayed up into the early morning hours learning the intricacies of the game, rolling the dice, checking numbers on the players' cards and practicing playing. Eventually, I played a game and became addicted to the magic of the game.

Twenty-one years later, I captured that magic again, albeit in a more serene, older way. Most people begin their APBA lives with the baseball contest. I started with football and then migrated to basketball and even hockey before getting into baseball. I did it backwards.

In 1998, I ordered the game. Both my parents were deceased and my wife, while accepting my sports addiction, did not enable it by buying me the games. There would not be a game from Santa under the tree for me. So, I ordered the game and waited.

A week or so before Christmas, my wife and I went to Memphis to shop. She dropped in some outlet mall toy store to find coloring books for the grandkids and I spotted an APBA baseball game on a shelf. I knew my order for the full set would arrive soon, but the Santa magic took hold of me. I grabbed the game and paid the $5 for it. It contained only three teams, but I reasoned I would practice playing that set so I could work out the kinks before the real game came in.

I got the full 1998 season on Dec. 28 and began playing it immediately. I've not stopped since, rolling seven full seasons, about half of the 1925 season and 80 percent of the 1942 season I'm on now. It's a good game, especially to last this long in my life.

There won't be a Santa at my house this year. But the game remains in my world and it continues to bring the magic that I first experienced as a youngster when Santa was delivering the good stuff.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hope in a Vikings' Game

As my friend's wife languished in the Intensive Care Unit, I watched the constant life and death dramas unfold in the nearby waiting room. Families huddled around tables. A doctor whispered information. People cried.

It was the same routine I had witnessed years ago when my own wife was dealing with kidney failure. I recognized the faces; the faces of jubilation, of hope, of sorrow and of loss. It's a morality play of types I've seen repeated over and over in my past.

So, when the going got rough enough to bring back the memories, and things turned too close to home, I turned to sports, as usual.

Mounted on the wall was a small television set that was tuned to the Minnesota-Baltimore football game. Having grown up in northern Minnesota, I've been a Vikings fan since I could understand the sport. I lived through the glory days of Bud Grant and the four Super Bowls, the Purple People Eaters, Fran Tarkington and Chuck Foreman. I watched them practice in the mid 1960s on the college football field where my father taught; I had a Roy Winston No. 60 jersey as a kid.

I also lived through the second heydays of the 1990s and 2000s and Brad Johnson and Brett Favre. And I suffered through the dismal years, including this season.

All that to say the Vikings' game was a great distraction to the trauma I was witnessing in that waiting room.

My friend's wife had some kidney issues of her own and her autoimmune system had been weakened. A bacterial infection began festering in her lungs earlier that week and within 48 hours, she was on a ventilator and in poor shape. My friend went into that stage where he looked for any signs of hope, signs that, in a normal setting would seem insane. When doctors took 6 pounds of fluid from her lungs, rather than the 8 pounds they had done earlier, it seemed a positive sign. A lung specialist said she was retaining 100 percent of the oxygen pumped into her via the tube —again, some faint hope to cling upon.

But there was also the bad. Once, doctors told my friend that his wife's kidneys were failing. Her lungs were also filling fast with fluid and they were concerned. It was the roller coaster of health those in the Intensive Care Unit become accustomed to.

I realized the game I was watching that day mirrored the situation with my friend's wife's health. The Vikings took the lead late in the game on a 41-yard run. Baltimore responded with a kickoff return for a touchdown. Matt Cassell then threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to give the Vikes back their lead.

But with 4 seconds left in the game, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco hit Marlon Brown for 9 yards and the win, 29-26. The game, too, was a roller coaster of emotions. When Flacco threw that last touchdown pass, I blurted out a bad word and kicked the air in frustration. The game was insignificant to the others in that room who were clinging on to whatever hope they could summon. But to me, at that point, it was key.

Was it insensitive to be emotionally attached to a football game in that ICU waiting room? Probably. Was it necessary I do so? I'm sure.

When the game ended on that snowy field in Baltimore Sunday, most people moved on with their lives. Even the players probably moved on. But for me, someone who has seen hope leave a lot of times, the game provided a respite of the fear and sorrow I was seeing and remembering of my own. And, even though the Vikings eventually lost, there was hope. Dammit, there was hope.

UPDATE: On Dec. 18, my friend's wife passed away after 16 days in  a coma in Intensive Care. She had a MRSA infection that wreaked havoc on her within 48 hours of her feeling bad. Hope left and now we deal with loss.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Let It Be ... APBA

Whenever the Beatles found themselves in times of trouble, Mother Mary would come to them.

When I find myself in similar situations, the game I of which I obsess comes to me. Let it be, APBA. (If you sing that like the Beatles' song “Let It Be,” it sort of works. Sort of.)

It happens sometimes like that. I clutch to the concept of the game like a set of worry beads; like a baby with a teething ring, a youngster and his thumb, a security blanket. I found myself doing that again today when work got a little frustrating. I received a message from an unhappy person complaining about a story I had written in the newspaper where I work. He bemoaned about me quoting him, and then he wrote that he had not actually read my story.

Also, I could not get information from a police department about officers' search for someone in connection with a double homicide. You'd think the police would want help in finding the guy. Instead, since it was the day after Thanksgiving, the officers were not at work. A dispatcher said they were all “at the house,” a common phrase uttered in the south meaning they were at their respective homes. But it gave an image that every policeman in the town was in one house together, probably watching the Arkansas vs. LSU football game.

So, it was not a good day at the workplace. But as I muttered bad things about each person who slighted my progress, I also began thinking of my 1942 APBA baseball replay, about future seasons I can do and about what new season I should buy sometime. While a criminal suspected of whacking two people lurked in hiding, I debated about the merits of purchasing the 1967 season or the 2006 season. Both were Cardinals' World Series-winning years. Both seasons fielded Minnesota teams. (As much as I enjoy the 1942 season, I do miss rolling games for the Minnesota Twins — and I know the Washington Senators' team is the forerunner for the Twins, but it's not the same).

I do this often. Once, while waiting for the jury to return on a murder trial I covered, I set up a grid of the National League teams in 1957 and tried to predict how many times each team would beat each other team head-to-head. When I added up all the wins and losses, I created final standings. It was a mindless activity, but it was peaceful in the eye of the storm that would soon turn once the verdict came back and the reporters had to do the post-trial wrap up interviews and then bang out a remote story from the courthouse on a tight deadline. Hack out a 30-inch story on a capital murder in 30 minutes? Hard to do. Figure out the Milwaukee Braves could win 93 games in 1957? Easier.

I've mentioned this a million times here before, but the APBA game is more than just a game. Many of the people who play it are in their middle ages of life or even beyond. It's not just a kid game. There's something about APBA that draws us in at an early age and then holds us. Maybe it's the return to childhood that we grasp. Maybe it's soothingness of it, the memories of more innocent times when we didn't know to be frustrated when the police we needed were “at the house.” Maybe it's the entire concept of baseball, of sports itself.

Whatever it is, it helps. While I stewed over my hate message from the man slighted by his quotes, I thought of the 1942 replay I'm doing. The St. Louis Cardinals are only a half game ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers on Aug. 18, 1942, in my contest. I thought of the games ahead. The two teams play each other a four-game series beginning on Aug. 24, 1942. While it's not real, it's something to think about. And so is whether I should get that 1967 season, or the 2006. Or maybe the 1911.

Sing with me, “Let it be, APBA.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

APBA Thanksgiving

When I was younger and a budding APBA enthusiast, I used the Thanksgiving break from high school as a time to really play the solitaire basketball game that I, unlike nearly everyone else who rolled a few games of roundball, enjoyed.

Now, as an adult, I still use the holiday to catch up on games in whatever replay I'm undertaking.

It's a holiday tradition, and what a great one it is. Stuff yourself with turkey, watch a football game or two on television and play more APBA games than usual.

I began playing the statistically-based dice game when I was in school. I was introduced to the APBA company with its football game, but a year later, I took on basketball. It's a plodding game that, in the quicker solitaire mode, boiled down to players shooting the ball, rebounding and assisting. It still often took more than two hours just to play a game. For some reason, I obsessed with that game and I truly loved it.

But, as a school student, there wasn't much time for me to play many games. Fitting a two-hour game into an evening of homework, telephone talking and television watching was difficult. I didn't need much sleep, even then at an early age, but my parents could tell if I stayed up late to play the game. I tried the excuse that some of the games were west coast contests and had late start times, hence my sleepy look in the mornings. It didn't work.

So, the holiday break came at a great time. I could play several games during the day on the Thanksgiving Thursday and then on the subsequent Friday we also had off from school. And, because I was a nerd then and didn't have a jam-packed social life, I had plenty of time for playing the game.

I carried that over to adulthood. I am off from the newspaper job where I work on Thanksgiving and I generally get in a few games in the morning. In the seven holidays since my wife passed away, I've spent Thanksgiving dinner in a different place each year. When you have no family, others feel pity and, like taking in a stray dog, feel obligated to ensure I'm not alone. But it's the APBA games I want the most that day; it's the stability I seek in the unstable times of holidays.

I return to work at my one-man bureau office the day after Thanksgiving, but in the news world I reside, that day is usually the slowest news day of the year. One year, a woman charged with capital murder decided to plea to a murder one charge on the Friday following Turkey Day. Another year, a man hid in an attic and then had a shoot out with local police. Both of those events broke up the routinely slow day.

But on the other Fridays, while the rest of the world lay back an extra day and digested more turkey and pie, I'd sit in the office alone and, while waiting for something to happen, I'd deal with APBA. I'd either bring the game from home and roll a few games at work, or I'd bring the notebook I use to record games and fill out the lineups for scores of upcoming games.

Thanksgiving is always a good time to get serious with a replay. If I'm just starting a season, as I often did with the basketball game in the late fall, it was the point where I'd knock out several games and set the pace and further my commitment to the game. If I reached a slow, burned out stage in a long baseball replay, it was a time to motivate myself to surge on and complete the season.

This year, it'll be the same. Games in the morning, a football game later on the television and evening APBA contests will round out the holiday. It's a time-honored tradition.

APBA Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Game No. 906; 300 to go

This morning I rolled Game No. 906 of my 1942 APBA baseball replay and while it's no big landmark, it does mean I have only 300 more games to play before I complete the year. I should wrap this up by the end of January or early February, and then begin yet another replay of some other season.

It's been a good season, but I always say that during any replay. I've never done a season replay from during the 1940s; this helped teach me about that era of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the rest. The St. Louis Browns are a fun team to play. They find ways to win. Detroit is a frustrating crew. They find ways to lose. Both Philadelphia teams are just awful, and the Cardinals-Dodgers race to the pennant is sizing up to be a good one.

Here are the standings after Game 906, which is five games into Aug. 15, 1942.

                     W    L    GB
New York     73   38    –
St. Louis       68   47     7
Boston          65   47    8.5
Cleveland     61   53   13.5
Detroit          58   59    18
Washington  45   65    27.5
Chicago        42   68    30.5
Philadelphia 41   76    35

                     W    L    GB
St. Louis       76   34     –
Brooklyn      75   36    1.5
New York     59   56   19.5
Cincinnati    54   57   22.5
Pittsburgh     52   60   25
Chicago        53   62   25.5
Boston          51   70   30.5
Philadelphia 32   77   43.5

Ted Williams leads the league with 32 home runs so far. Dolph Camilli has 27 for Brooklyn and Max West hit 22 for the Boston Braves. Mort Cooper has 18 wins for the Cardinals and Denny Galehouse and Elden Auker, both of the St. Louis Browns, are tied for the American League with 15 victories each.

I have hit “the wall” a few times and the replay slowed down. I found myself looking ahead to whatever next replay I'll do. Maybe 1991, maybe 1919. I have even toyed with the idea of playing the APBA basketball game that really first introduced me to this company. While others have bemoaned how slow that game is, I played it all the time when I was in my late teens and I loved it. I may drag that out.

But for now, the focus is on completing 1942,and here are some tidbits that we, the game players, search to help progress the season.

New York Yankees: They win a lot, but they win on pitching and doubles. The big bats just aren't there. Charlie Keller leads the team with 21 home runs. Joe DiMaggio has only 9 home runs. This team reminds me of the Yankees of 2003, when Jeter told the dugout that they would beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series because the “ghosts” of Yankees past would guide team. Well, this 1942 apparently features some of those ghosts.

St. Louis Browns: In the replay, they are nine games better than in real life at this point. They are 6-11 against the Red Sox so far and and 9-9 versus the Yankees. They've beaten up on the weaker teams by going 13-5 against Philadelphia and 13-2 against the White Sox, hence their decent record.

Boston Red Sox: They lost their first 10 games in the season, but have rebounded and are streaky now. They'll go 6-2 on a run, and then lose two of three games. But they'll put it back together and run off another five or six wins in seven or eight games. Ted Williams is amazing in this replay. He's batting well over .400 (remember, I don't keep detailed stats. I know, blaspheme).

Detroit Tigers: I can't understand this team. Five of the six regular starters have 'B' ratings. (APBA grades pitchers. In the basic game, an 'A,' obviously, is the best. D is the lowest rating). Hal Newhouser has a rating of A. Each pitcher also has an above strikeout average which is reflected on the card. In a game that pretty much sums up the Tigers' season, Newhouser threw 8 innings of perfect baseball against Cleveland. Problem was, Detroit didn't score either. Newhouser opened the bottom of the ninth with two walks, got Jim Hegan on a flyout and hoped for a double play to send the game into extra innings. Instead, Oris Hockett hit a single and the Indians won on one hit.

St. Louis Cardinals: They were behind the Dodgers early on, just as in real life in 1942. They suddenly took off, winning 20 of 23 from July 4 to July 25. They passed the Brooklyn Dodgers and had a 6-game lead over them at one point. But since then, they've played .500 ball while Brooklyn has returned the favor, going 13-5 in its last 18 games. It looks like it'll be a fun finish for those two teams.

New York Giants: Mel Ott has 18 home runs and Johnny Mize has 17. It seems like whenever one hits one, the other follows. A friend of mine gave me a recording he found of the 1942 All-Star Game and in it, the announcer was discussing the virtues of rookie outfielder Willard Marshall. He's the third best long ball hitter for the Giants in my replay, and it was neat hearing the recorded broadcast about him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates are 52-60. Without Vince DiMaggio, they'd be lucky to have won 40 games so far. He's hit 10 home runs, but seems to come through in the clutch with a lot of doubles to drive in runs. That's it for Pittsburgh. The rest of the team is mired in mediocrity. Or worse. Ken Heintzelman is the league's worst pitcher with a 1-14 mark.

So there's the recap so far. Those who don't play APBA, yet read this blog can see how replayers get caught up in the seasons. There are the nuances and quirks that pop up in every replay and it's what keeps us rolling and rolling the dice

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Missing the Games

Michigan State was playing Kentucky and Kansas faced Duke the other night in college basketball. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 were squaring off on television; college basketball season, of which I truly love, had officially begun.

Add to that a St. Louis Blues hockey game on cable. And throw in the fact that I had to re-write and edit a story I sold to a magazine by the following morning. My evening was set.

So why then, when a friend called and asked me to come to her house to watch a movie, did I jump at the opportunity quicker than Vladimir Tarasenko on an empty net goal chance? I shirked my responsibility to the magazine. It was a paying job and I can always use the extra money. But, more surprising, I dodged the responsibility to my sports obsession and skipped the games.

I'll pause while those who know me pick their stunned selves off the floor.

Sure. I like the girl I went to see. A lot. I'd probably go watch a documentary about air just to hang out with her. But still, I missed sports and that is somewhat surprising. I tend to not miss most big sporting events on television. I've taken the day off from work the past two years just to ensure I'd be home in time for the kickoff of the BCS National Championship football game. I've watched nearly every World Series games since 1969 and I stay up late just to see the west coast NHL playoff games in San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles and, when they were decent, Calgary.

But as the Spartans and Wildcats tipped off the other night and as they dropped the puck in St. Louis, I and my friend watched the HBO documentary on the 1993 slayings of three West Memphis, Ark., boys instead. The film showed the arrests, trial, appeals and eventual release of three men who were convicted. I covered that case, which gained international attention from the documentaries, from beginning to end over 19 years for three different newspapers, and viewers can even catch a glimpse of me looking all reporter like in the second of the three movies. I offered a running commentary for my friend about the characters in the case and a behind-the-scenes look at it all while we watched at her home. My babbling rantings, I'm sure, were similar to the droning of Tim McCarver during a baseball broadcast on FOX.

I've written about my sports obsession here before. My own mother used to criticize me for that, saying I could not be a good husband, let alone a decent person, because of the fanaticism I beheld toward sports when I was a kid.

Have I grown up a little? Am I reaching out to some sense of social being? Missing a Number 1 versus a Number 2, which is somewhat rare in college basketball, was big. But my skipping those games, and putting off writing that magazine article was just as monumental. (I'm not too far gone. I did do the rewrite into the wee hours of the morning and met the imposed deadline)

I've got until the first week of January when the BCS National Championship game is held to figure it all out. If I miss that one, I may need to seek professional help.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Wall

I'm sure there is a wall every replayer hits when doing a season recreation of the APBA game. It generally comes late in the replay's progress when it's hard to get motivated to roll a game between two cellar-dwelling teams.

I've reached that wall now.

I'm at Aug. 8, 1942, in my current replay. And while it's a great season to play with Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and the surprisingly good St. Louis Browns, I find myself slowing down when I see on the schedule that the next game up is the Cleveland Indians playing the Chicago White Sox, for instance.

I think we replayers all slow down during seasons. It's a long process rolling each game. It takes a year or more to complete one season; I've been doing APBA baseball since 1998 and I've finished seven replays so far, and I play a lot of games each day. Consider that each game takes about 15-20 minutes to play, and there's anywhere from 1,200 to 2,100 games to play — depending upon the number of teams involved and how many games constitutes a full season for them — and it's easy to see how long these things take.

And I think that the enthusiasm for a baseball replay may also wane when the real baseball season concludes. I find that I've slowed down in my replay baseball now that the actual World Series is over. It seems that whatever sport is in season is a motivator for whatever game I'll play. With that in mind, I've contemplated about pausing the baseball game briefly and dragging out the APBA hockey or basketball game for a spell, just to shift gears.

But then I reconsider and roll on.

I am not an employee of APBA and, like I said here before, I'm not sure the game company even knows this blog exists. But, one of the really great things about APBA now is that they offer every single baseball season there is. And this game is so much better than other sports simulation game.

Game players often chose their seasons based upon personal likes. I bought 1987 and 1991 specifically for the reason that the Minnesota Twins won the Series in each of those years. I purchased 1919 after reading Al Stump's biography of Ty Cobb and I want to someday buy 1947 because that's the first year Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

We also buy seasons that have sentimental value. I bought 1969 because that is the first year I really, really followed baseball closely.

So, like all APBA fans, I have a closet full of seasons to play. And I have to finish one season to get to the next. I'll pick up interest again in the 1942 season — maybe by seeking nuances of certain teams or players and focusing on them when I play the less desirable teams.

I should finish this 1942 replay by February and by then, hopefully, I'll figure out what's next to play.

We may all hit walls at times during our game playing, but those walls aren't impenetrable and we forge on, motivated by the next season on our horizon, and the next one after that and then the next one again.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Love In the Spam File

Love came to me in the spam file of my e-mail.

Olga, from some Russian country that often features large factory boiler explosions, sent me a heartfelt message that expressed her desire to meet me. She said she found me on an “international dating site,” which was weird because I've never been to one of those. I can't make relationships work with people in the same state as I. Why would I venture overseas?

But love was blossoming and, because whenever that happens, people get stupid. Cupid doesn't send his arrow to the heart. He goes for the head shot. Olga's letter, though, struck a chord in my heart. Surely, Olga was feeling just the same.

In her broken, adorable English, she outlined herself. “Tell to me,” she wrote. “What you to search in women? Ken in you me, that that draws.”


But I put that aside. I imagined myself teaching her more English. She could attend baseball games with me, yelling at the umpires “That was Bolshevik,” she'd say at a bad call. She'd need work using the proper words, but love is about sharing and teaching.

So, I wrote her back. “Why did you write me?”

And she responded. “I receive your letter. So it is happy.” I've not heard girls say that to me before. Ever.

Two days later, she wrote again. A boiler exploded in the factory where she works as a nurse. Apparently, it was bad; lots of people were burned, she said. I looked up on Google the name of her town to see if there was an accident. I found one. But it occurred two years ago. Rough place, I thought. Maybe I could move there and become a boiler repairman; seems like there'd be plenty of work.

She also wrote that she tended to the injured, giving me an image of a caring person who forewent any personal safety to help others. She wrote that she tried dating men in Russia, but they were “all alcoholics.”

And you think America is different? I thought.

“What to give a smile to yours face?” she wrote. “I wait for your letter and I hope, that you to not keep me waiting long.”

She signed it, “Your girlfriend, Olga.”

It was only four days after I received her first e-mail. Maybe Russian girls were quicker to develop relationships. None of that time-consuming, get-to-know-you Bolshevik with her.

I wrote her back again, opening my soul. I told her I had suffered a medical disaster and had no money. I was penniless, I wrote. And I had no family. And, since we were developing our relationship so quickly, I asked her if she could loan me some money. I'd pay her back with interest, I promised.

Olga quit writing.

I waited, checking my spam folder for her letter. So it was not happy.

Days passed. I imagined Olga working long hours, bandaging the burned at the boiler explosion that happened in 2011. But she never wrote back, and, again, I was heartbroken.

Then, just as the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, just as hope returns to the hopeless, just as the Cubs return to last place by mid July, love came back.

“Hi, I hope my little letter finds you in good mood. My name is Olga,” the letter in my spam file read. “I wanted to get acquainted with the kind man not from Russia. In Russia it is a lot of alcoholics.”

If I respond, I'm sure Olga will write back and profess love. She'll send me a picture of her and her mother together and eventually ask me to send her money for plane tickets. She'll miss the flight and ask for more money. And she'll send more pictures.

And when I write back asking her for money, she'll disappear.

Love. It's Bolshevik!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Change For a Five?

Raise your arm up high and slap my extended, open palm if you're with me on this.

I hate the “high five” thing that is as common among fans in stadiums as swilling $10 beer, wearing since-traded player jerseys and gobbling down ballpark franks slathered with mustard and relish. Maybe it's my apprehension of coming into contact with total strangers. Maybe it's my obsessive fear with other people's germs. Maybe it's just a way to avoid a hand globbed with mustard and relish.

I got the double dose of high-fiving last week when I went to St. Louis to watch a hockey game and ended up going to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series where the Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I sat at the top of the left field Saturday afternoon in what is known in Busch Stadium as “Big Mac Land,” named for where the steroid-ladened Mark McGwire would clout mammoth home runs during his tenure as a Cardinal. I sat six seats left of the foul pole, and was about as far from the action and as insignificant as a fan could be. My cheers went unheard. Had I a towel to swing during rallies, it would have gone unnoticed.

There was no point in high-fiving.

But they did it. Strangers raised their hands and seatmates slapped them in jubilation. An extremely obese guy in our section once raised his hand for a slap. I wanted to give him a fiver for having the energy just to lift his hefty arm.

Later that night at the St. Louis Blues hockey game, kids sitting next to me at the top of the stadium wanted to high five me after the Blues scored. I turned them down, saying that I had done nothing. The fellows down on the ice did all the work. High five them. Me? My biggest accomplishment was finding my seat that evening and not spilling the $5 bottle of water during my Sherpa-like trek up the stadium's steep steps.

As I left the hockey arena after the Blues' victory, I briefly thought about walking through the stadium concourse with my hand raised above my head just to see how many people would connect; how many would give me the high five for winning the game. But, I held back, fearing more mustard and relish could coat my palm.

I tried to find the origin of the gesture. There are two thoughts. The first theory is that former Murray State University basketball player Lamont Skeets did it between 1979 and 1984. Skeets claimed that that his father, while serving in the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, in Vietnam, would greet his soldiers with an upraised hand. Lamont first replicated that as a child when those soldiers visited his father at home, and he'd say, “Hi, Five,” to them.

He took that motion with him onto the basketball court when he played for the Murray State Racers.

A second, perhaps more widely held, belief is that the high five came from L.A. Dodgers' Glenn Burke. On Oct. 2, 1977, Dusty Baker hit a home run for the Dodgers on the last day of the season, giving him 30 for the year. As he returned to the dugout, Burke, who was waiting on deck, apparently raised his hand and Baker, not knowing what to do, slapped it. Then Burke followed with his own home run. Baker raised his hand when Burke rounded the bases and then 'fived' him when they met.

Each story has its followers, and each one may contribute to the habit I find annoying.

Slapping palms with strangers as a way to celebrate a good play, an athletic achievement, a victory, is all strange to me. Again, I did nothing. I had very little to do with any victory that day at both the baseball and hockey games. Unless you credit wins to the fact I could carry my water up the Everest-like incline while dodging errant mustard and relish bits.

Can I get a high five for that?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Alternate Reality in a Replay

I've only replayed one baseball contest with the APBA game that I actually attended.

It was the Aug. 16, 1987, game when Seattle traveled to the old Metrodome to play the Minnesota Twins. In the real game, I sat above first base in the second deck and was one of 28,006 who watched as Minnesota won, 5-1, on Frank Viola's pitching. I can't find my game replay records for the1987 I played, but I know they won in the recreated contest as well.

But it's hard to roll any games I've attended when I usually replay seasons before I was born.

I thought of this as I sat in Row R, Section 333, of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis Saturday and watched the Blues beat the New York Rangers, 5-3. As the game progressed, I considered setting up an NHL replay with APBA next year when game company puts out this season's cards.

I tend to do that, as any sports fan who plays APBA should. I get fired up for whatever season is being played and, when I go to an actual game, I really, really want to do that particular sport.

So, Saturday night as the Blues skated to their win, I thought about the alternate reality of playing a game that I actually attended. Why does the outcome differ? Obviously, the randomness of the dice roll makes a difference, as do line ups, pitching changes, errors and other variables. But there are other, weirder questions one ponders late at night: Does it create a vacuum to do a game that I've seen years before? And the even deeper ones: In the 1987 Twins' game, no one hit a home run in the game I saw. In my replay, I know Kent Hrbek hit one. So, it's something to think about. Why does a replay game differ from the actual game that much?

I could only come up with that 1987 game that I've both seen and replayed. I've been to several St. Louis Cardinals games over the years since I live within 4 hours of the stadium. I went to games in Philadelphia when I lived there briefly in the fall of 1983. I've been to a few of the St. Louis Blues' games the past several years, but I only own the 1993-94, 1998-99, 2001-02 and the 2004-05 NHL seasons with APBA. I guess I could buy newer NHL seasons and do games I've attended.

But when you replay older seasons, like the 1942 baseball season I'm engaged in now, or 1957, or 1932, or 1925. as I have played in the past, I'm not going to toss any games that I've seen in person.

I tend to steer clear of the newer seasons to replay. When I first got the baseball game in the winter of 1998, however, I did play that season. New York beat Atlanta in my World Series, 4 games to 3, and I was hooked. I was also hooked on the historical aspect of the replay process as well and I gravitated toward those older seasons. I did do 1987 because the Twins won the Series that year, and I did go to the actual Game 4 of the Series in St. Louis that year. However, in my replicated contest, Minnesota did not make the APBA Series and instead St. Louis beat Kansas City.

I'm about 65 percent finished with the 1942 season. I am now considering getting the 2013-14 NHL season next year just so I can replay a second game that I actually saw in person.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Replay Impetus

I think I was about 8 years old when I first understood the concept of doing a replay of sorts. Since then, it's become the staple of my only hobby as I roll games daily in my APBA baseball replay.

I've done replays of numerous seasons since then with the football, basketball, hockey and baseball games that APBA has created. I once tried to figure out how many games I've played with the APBA game since I started rolling the dice as a 17-year-old. It has to be nearing 50,000 or so by now.

But the spark for all of this really began when I was that 8-year-old kid.

My parents bought me an electric football game for Christmas and I spent my days setting up the players in the offensive and defensive formations suggested in the game's instructions and clicked the switch to make them vibrate on the field. I'd play a game between the two teams that came with the set — Minnesota and Cleveland — and then, when the contest was over, I'd do it again. Aimless, repetitive, single games.

Since I lived in Minnesota at the time, I'd notice if the Vikings beat Cleveland more times than the Browns beat them, but it didn't really mean anything. I didn't compile won-lost records or even think about the head-to-head clashes much …

… until early that spring when my parents went to some event at the college where my dad taught and they brought in a babysitter to watch over me. The babysitter, a high school student who played the cello, taught me the ramifications of thinking bigger when playing the electric football game.

It almost didn't happen if not for a piece of Christmas tinsel and my curiosity. I may have been able to avoid that whole babysitting thing as a child, but I lost my parents' trust during the Christmas of 1968. They left me at home once when they made a quick dash to the college to pick something up. During their absence, I saw a television advertisement for aspirin. The announcer said the pain reliever helped during the holidays when things happened, including when tinsel fell into a Christmas light socket.

Well, I wondered, what really would happen if tinsel fell into the socket? I decided to try.

And I quickly found out what occurred. I got shocked and the breaker box in the basement blew the main fuse. When my parents returned home, they found me in total darkness, huddled next to a heater vent shivering and crying.

The babysitter concept was a natural response to that and the next time they went out, he was summoned.

I don't even remember the guy's name. I do know that later he stabbed a large hunting knife into a wooden dock. His hand was wet and it slipped down the handle and across the blade, severing the tendons in his fingers. He couldn't play the cello after that.

But one time before that accident when he babysat me, he saw the electric football game and played it with me. And he showed me how to set up a tournament. He drew brackets and seeded eight teams and we played the games. I was fascinated by it and I repeatedly played those tournaments. I'd use a ruler and carefully draw the brackets and, in my best 8-year-old printing, write in the teams.

It was the impetus for what I do now, 45 years later. The replay games are a big part of my recreational life; my hobby, my sanity-keeper. And to think, it all may never have been in my world had it not been for a piece of tinsel, electricity and my curiosity.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Breaking the Chip Addiction

I'm Ken and I'm a potato chip addict. (Hi, Ken)

I've been hooked on the thin-cut, deep fried or baked, salted and flavored strips of spud goodness for years. If it's crunching, I'm munching. While most guys my age are still looking to get laid, I'm looking to get Lays. Fritos? Neato!

I've done 'em all. Doritos, Ruffles, Pringles, Cheetos. I've tried sloppy joe flavored chips, Tositos with a hint o' lime, and baby back rib tasting things in addition to the standard sour cream and onions and cheddar chips. I've woken on the couch before, sweeping Cool Ranch chip powder off my shirt like Scarface's Tony Montana brushing cocaine off his clothing.

Yes, it's bad. I had thought about entering a 12-chip program, but I'd relapse quicker than Guns N' Roses' Steven Adler on a Dr. Drew Celebrity Rehab show.

A few months ago, I wrote here about the snacking potentials while playing the 1942 APBA baseball replay games I'm doing. You roll games, you eat junk food. It's part of the game. Eating treats while rolling the games is as American as, well, apple pie, to continue the food metaphor.

But, I may have come across a chip flavor that could end my addiction. Call it the methadone for a heroin addict, if you want.

The other day I picked up a bag of chicken and waffle flavored potato chips. I'm not making this up. It's really a flavor and it's really gross. I could have gotten better taste and nutrition from the leaky paper bag I saw in the parking lot of the grocery store where I found the chips. I'm not sure what was in the bag, but I bet our local police department's forensic unit would have a field day with it. Do rotting bananas emit blue ooze? I digress.

It's an odd concept, jamming chicken with waffles. I like both foods. Separately. I live in the south, so chicken is a staple. Waffles? Well, who doesn't like waffles? But putting them together in a crunchy presentation is just weird. I like popcorn and spinach, but I'm not eating popcorn-flavored spinach.

I ate a few of these chips and blanched. Satan's panty shields would have tasted better and they wouldn't be as dusty. And here's where I cross the line with too much information, I'm sure, but I hiccuped a day later and still tasted those sumbitches!

So, I'm swearing off chips now. And I'm hoping that I, unlike the meth addict returning to his pipe, don't find myself heading back to Aisle 1 of my grocery store where all those chips beckon. It's good for me to do this, too. I'm walking 5-10 miles a weekend with a friend in an attempt to lose my girth and potato chips are the antithesis of weight loss.

No more chicken and waffle chips while I play the APBA games. The cards won't get chippy dust on them and I'll continue, hopefully, to lose a bit of weight. Steven Adler would be proud of me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Update: July 21, 1942

I've reached July 21, 1942 in my APBA baseball replay and, as usual, good story lines are developing.

This replay has been a series of spurts and slowdowns. I'll play a lot of games, rolling dice into the wee hours and tracking scores for a while. Then, the pace slows and I may only play 1 or 2 games a day for a week before resuming the quicker pace. It's not burnout, but instead attention diversion, I guess. I watch football on television a lot now and that takes up time. I'm also reading more books on — of course — football.

But the game continue and with them come some intriguing points that make this game worth playing each day.

Here are the standings at the end of July 21, 1942:

New York          57 33 –
St. Louis            56 36 2
Boston               51 39 6
Detroit               49 45 10
Cleveland          46 46 12
Washington       39 53 19
Chicago             36 53 20.5
Philadelphia      34 63 28.5

St. Louis            62 25 –
Brooklyn           61 29 2.5
New York          48 42 15.5
Cincinnati         44 47 20
Chicago             41 52 24
Boston               42 54 24.5
Pittsburgh          39 52 25
Philadelphia      27 63 36.5

Ted Williams leads the Red Sox with 23 home runs and Charlie Keller of the Yankees is second with 17. Joe DiMaggio is having a slow season in this replay. He has 8 home runs and, although I haven't updated his statistics lately, it'll be a surprise if he's batting .300.

Denny Galehouse is 14-2 for the St. Louis Browns, a big reason why they are in second place in this replay. Charlie Wagner is 13-4 for the Red Sox, and Tiny Bonham is big for the Yankees with a 12-0 record.

In the National League, Max West continues to pace the Boston Braves with 21 home runs. He's tied for the lead with Brooklyn's Dolph Camilli. Mort Cooper has helped the Cardinals to the best record in the replay with a 15-5 record. Jim Tobin is 13-9 for the Braves and Curt Davis is 12-0 for the Dodgers.

Some of the story lines to have developed include the pitching of Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Vander Meer. He's had two games where he's struck out 15 batters. Pitching is horrendous for the Phillies. As of July 21, 1942, the team has four 10-game losers.

But the best story is the emergence of the Cardinals. In the real 1942 season, the Redbirds trailed Brooklyn after the All-Star break and at one point in August were 10 games behind the Dodgers. They caught Brooklyn, going 43-9 in the last 52 games.

In the 1942 replay I'm doing, St. Louis began early. They've won nine of their last 10 games, compared to Brooklyn going 4-6 in the same span. The Cardinals, who when July began, were 4 games behind when July began, have gone 24-3 in their last 27 games.

I'm about 60 percent finished with the season. There' a lot more baseball to be played, and more story lines to surely follow.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mortality in a Manhole Cover

Go to Google on the Internet and type in “14th St. and Bixby Ave, Bemidji, Minn.,” and then click on the Google map that comes up. Zoom in and select the street level option and then head west, clicking three times until the view comes to an alley off of 14th Street.

Tilt the “camera” down on the road and see the manhole cover.

It's where I found a youthful memory last week and it's part of the look back that we do, I assume, as we try and recapture moments of our childhood.

Weird, I know. But when you pass middle age and realize your own mortality, you seek comfort wherever you can.

When I was a youngster, I lived near the corner of 14th St. and Bixby. Two houses to the north, to be exact. My friend lived in that house on the northwest corner and his backyard served as the neighborhood football field.

But one day when we were bored of throwing the pigskin around, we stood in the street, gaping at that manhole cover. ( I realize on Google maps, one of the manhole covers is not photographed properly; it's that one I'm talking about). So, I got my wooden hockey stick and we pried open the lid and peered inside. I don't recall if we actually climbed into the sewer. I assume we didn't. We may have gone down the ladder a step or two, but I even doubt that. Opening a manhole cover was enough of a thrill.

The impact of seeing it was profound. It's still there, on the same street that I, half a century ago, saw as a challenge and an adventure.

I continued my quest on the Google map thing, “driving” down the streets I once trekked to find my friends' homes. I saw my best friend's house on 15th and Calihan Ave. and zoomed in on his backyard. It's where we played whiffle ball each summer day. The yard appeared very small, yet as a child it seemed to me as big as any baseball stadium. Hit the plastic ball over the hedges for a home run. A ball into the window wells on his house was a ground rule double.

I also toured the grade school I attended, the college where my father taught and the baseball fields where I tried to play Little League.

I ended with a feeling of melancholy and a longing to go back there, even though it's been a long time since I saw Bemidji. Maybe it was my way of trying to hold on to some shard of childhood; the refusal to accept the fact that I'm all grown up and have been so for a long time.

But I still clung on a piece of that childhood the other day. I left where I work and saw a crew prying back a manhole cover on the street by my building. I knew they were installing a communication line; the workers had AT&T shirts on and they were dragging a long spool behind them of the cable. But still, I had to maintain that childhood I seem to hang on to.

“Whatcha doing down there?” I asked one of the workers who had just climbed into the sewer. “Bustin' up a big turd?”

He looked at me oddly and I laughed. People my age aren't supposed to say “turd” in public. I did.

Some call it immaturity. I call it nostalgia.

So, I look at manhole covers on the internet and have childhood memories and recall more innocent times and keep a grasp on who I once was. I still have that wooden hockey stick, too, in case I get an urge to pry open the manhole cover in the street where I live now.